If the Hollywood film Inception might seem like science fiction to many people, it is interesting to note that whilst scientists have been researching the concept of lucid dreaming for several decades, it has actually been known about for centuries. The first recorded details were in a letter by St. Augustine in 415 AD, and 8th century Tibetan monks practiced a form of dream yoga. Samuel Pepys mentions a specific dream in one of his diaries and Robert Louis Stevenson said Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde came to him like a nocturnal soap opera whose separate installments he could automatically ‘tune into’ every bedtime.
Scientific studies have now proved that lucid dreaming is associated with REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, which occurs around 90 minutes after we have fallen asleep. Researchers believe dreams are a clever mental mechanism to allow us to work through unresolved problems during sleep, or to rehearse dangerous situations before they happen. The ability to take control with lucid dreaming could be very helpful for people who suffer from nightmares for example.
In 1867 a book was published in France arguing that it is possible to learn how to dream consciously, and the founder of the London-based Academy of Dreams claims that virtually anyone can have lucid dreams and teaches courses in the techniques. Developers in America have come up with a sleep mask to help you control your dreams, but for those who prefer a more natural and cheaper approach there are a number of foods available which contain melatonin, a substance linked to inducing lucid dreams. The highest concentration can be found in white mustard seeds, but if the thought of consuming this in huge quantities puts you off, why not try keeping a dream journal? You might not end up directing your own sci-fi movie in your dreams, but it could make them a lot more vivid.